Monday, June 7, 2010

Oil In a Day’s Work

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has a good idea.

Friday’s job report was awful. For most new high school and college grads finding a job is harder than ever. Meanwhile, states are cutting summer jobs for disadvantaged young people. What to do with this army of young unemployed? Send them to the Gulf to clean up beaches and wetlands, and send the bill to BP.

Florida’s panhandle beaches are already marred with sticky brown globs of oil. Workers with blue rubber gloves and plastic bags are already losing the battle to keep them clean. Pelicans and other wildlife coated in oil tar are dying by the droves.

It will get far worse. Most of the oil hasn’t hit land yet. When it does, hundreds of thousands of workers will be needed to clean beaches, siphon off oil from wetlands, and rescue stranded wildlife. Tens of thousands more will have to bring in new landfill, replace tarred sea walls, and rebuild shoreline infrastructure.

Yet we’ve got hundreds of thousands of young people sitting on their hands right now because they can’t find jobs. Many are from affected coastal areas, where the tourist and fishing industries have been decimated by the spill.

The President should order BP to establish a $5 billion clean-up fund, and immediately put America’s army of unemployed young people to work saving the Gulf coast. Call it the new Civilian Conservation Corps.

There are a few things that would need to be worked out. First, the kids would have to be trained in handling hazardous material since oil is toxic and people on the Gulf Coast are already reporting spill-related illnesses. That also brings up a liability situation. But if BP truly believes in putting their money where their mouth is, they will foot the bill.

The righties will probably whine that government jobs aren’t real jobs, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), pivoting from her “where’s the Obama administration?” screed, will go back to the FEMA-work-camps paranoia, but in reality, how could anyone object to a program that won’t cost the government anything, will put people to work, and will clean up the mess?

HT to Anne Laurie at B-J.